If the staggering sales of e-readers over the holiday season, coupled with the reports on ebook borrowing and sales for 2011, are any indication of the resurgence in reading habits, there may be a vital reason. Studies have now shown that humans have a basic need to read.
“Psychologists from Washington University used brain scans to see what happens inside our heads when we read stories. They found that ‘readers mentally simulate each new situation encountered in a narrative.’ The brain weaves these situations together with experiences from its own life to create a new mental synthesis. Reading a book leaves us with new neural pathways.”
Readers have long had their views of the world altered or enhanced by subject matter in books, and obviously the basic system of education in much of the world involves reading and studying content matter for increased knowledge. But the Washington University study actually shows that the human brain is physically changed by reading, particularly when the brain is wholly immersed in the narrative to the exclusion of surrounding input.
Rebuck’s article goes on, however, to explain that we are seeing a decrease in empathetic behaviors in generations that do not read as much as previous generations, whole demographics who instead rely on technology for information and entertainment rather than reading for enjoyment, and she proposes a solution.
“If reading were to decline significantly, it would change the very nature of our species. If we, in the future, are no longer wired for solitary reflection and creative thought, we will be diminished. But as a reader and a publisher, I am optimistic. Technology throws up as many solutions as it does challenges: for every door it closes, another opens. So the ability, offered by devices like e-readers, smartphones and tablets, to carry an entire library in your hand is an amazing opportunity. As publishers, we need to use every new piece of technology to embed long-form reading within our culture. We should concentrate on the message, not agonize over the medium. We should be agnostic on the platform, but evangelical about the content.”